The Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority, established by law on Dec. 22, 2021, as Act 96 of 2021, is an independent agency of the PA Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED).
The authority is responsible for creating a statewide broadband plan and distributing federal and state funds for broadband expansion projects in unserved and underserved areas of Pennsylvania. Its efforts focus on closing Pennsylvania’s digital divide so all Pennsylvanians can get connected to affordable and reliable high-speed broadband internet at home, at work, or on the road.
Executive Director – Brandon Carson
PBDA Board of Directors
- Board meets quarterly with ability to call special meetings.
- For motions to be successful, all four legislative appointees must vote in favor of the motion. One legislative appointee voting no will deem the motion failed.
- Rep. Robert F. Matzie (D-Beaver/16th District) – House Democrat Caucus (also chairman of House Consumer Affairs, Utilities and Technology Committee)
- Rep. Carl Metzgar (R-Somerset/69th District) – House Republican Caucus (also minority chairman, House Professional Licensure Committee)
- Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York/28th District) – Senate Republican Caucus (also vice chairman of Senate Communications and Technology Committee), Board Secretary
- Sen. John Kane (D-Philadelphia/9th District) – Senate Democrat Caucus (also minority chairman, Senate Labor and Industry Committee) Board Assistant Secretary
- Secretary Uri Monson – Office of the Budget (appointed chairman by governor)
- Secretary Reggie McNeil – Department of General Services
- Secretary Dr. Khalid Mumin – Department of Education
- Secretary Rick Siger – Department of Community and Economic Development
- Secretary Russell Redding – Department of Agriculture
- Stephen DeFrank – Chairman, Pennsylvania Public Utility
- Dr. Kyle Kopko – Executive Director, The Center for Rural Pennsylvania
- Members: Jay Summerson, Microsoft; Bill Kiger, Pennsylvania One Call; Ed Mooney, Communications Workers of America; Lisa Schaefer, County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania; Gary Zingaretti, Zingaretti Enterprises; Julie Tritt Schell, PA Department of Education; Steve Schwerbel, Wireless Internet Service Providers Association; and Chris Cap, PA State Association of Boroughs.
- Outreach and Education
- Members: Lisa Davis, Office of Rural Health, Penn State University; Carrie Nace, PA State Grange; Sarah Hammond (co-chair), American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations ; Bailey Thumm, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau ; Dan Alwine, PA Chamber of Business & Industry; Molly de Aguiar, Independence Public Media Foundation; Amy Sturges, PA Municipal League; and Joseph Gerdes, PA State Association of Township Supervisors.
- Members: Todd Eachus, Broadband Communications Association of PA (co-chair); Barb Burba-Filoreto, PA Wireless Association; Frank Baier, PA Office of Administration; Jim Gardler, Communications Workers of America; Shane Ellis, Pennsylvania Utility Contractors Association; Bill Wiendenheft, PA Intermediate Units; Steve Samara, PA Telephone Association; and Terry Fitzpatrick, Energy Association of Pennsylvania.
- Workforce and Supply Chain
- Members: VACANT, International Brotherhood of Electric Workers International; Russ McDaid, eCommerce Association; Shannon Munro, Pennsylvania College of Technology; John Pulver, PA Association of Career & Technical Administrators; Steve Brame, PA Rural Electric Association; Carl Marrara, PA Manufacturers’ Association; VACANT, PA Department of Labor and Industry; and Gary Bolton, Fiber Broadband Association.
The board has already received $5 million in planning funds through the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program and over $1.6 million in funds through the Digital Equity Act Program. These resources are being used by the Authority to build staff capacity, complete statewide mapping, and develop the relevant plans that NTIA requires prior to the distribution of implementation funds in 2024.
The funding allocations from NTIA will be based on the total number of unserved locations in the Commonwealth as compared to the number of unserved locations in the other states and territories.
Based on the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) National Broadband Map, Pennsylvania will receive $1.16 billion in funding for broadband efforts.
To maximize the funding allocation, the Authority contracted with Penn State Extension to assist with the review of the map and development of challenge data to submit to the FCC in response to the information provided by internet service providers.
The authority must also submit two plans: Five-Year Action Plan for BEAD (submitted in August 2023) and the Digital Equity Plan. The work plan includes facilitation of roundtable discussions and a strategic planning session for the Authority’s board of directors; facilitation of core planning team meetings; development and deployment of a statewide community survey; partnering with Authority staff to host in-person community outreach events to help identify locally specific barriers and inform asset mapping; development of a “Broadband Ready” framework/checklist to prepare local units of government for broadband projects and prepare for partnerships with providers; and the development of a draft framework of the BEAD Five-Year Action Plan and Digital Equity Plan.
The Authority also worked to develop its first competitive grant program to incentivize broadband deployments in underserved and underserved areas. The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allocated $10 billion to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, which established the Capital Projects Fund (CPF) Program. The CPF Program provides payments to states and territories for the purposes of critical capital projects that are in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Commonwealth was allocated $279 million under the CPF Program, through which the Authority submitted program plans to Treasury identifying the intended use of funds. The Authority has identified three grant programs through which CPF funds will be administered: (1) $200 million for the Broadband Infrastructure Program (BIP); (2) $45 million for the Digital Anchor Institution Program; and (3) $20 million for the Digital Access and Opportunity Grant Program.
This Issue Brief is also available to download in PDF format.
The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) provides eligible households with a discount on broadband service and connected devices.
On Nov. 15, 2021, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (Infrastructure Act) provided $14.2 billion to modify and extend the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB Program) to a longer-term broadband affordability program called the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP).
The benefit provides a discount of up to $30 per month toward internet service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal lands. Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price.
The Affordable Connectivity Program is limited to one monthly service discount and one device discount per household. Recertification is an annual requirement for ACP subscribers. This process is completed to ensure that active ACP subscribers are still eligible for the benefit.
A household is eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program if the household income is at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines (For example: a two-person household could earn a maximum of $39,440 or a four-person family could earn up to $60,000), or if a member of the household meets at least one of the criteria below:
- Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year.
- Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income internet program.
- Participates in one of these assistance programs: Free and Reduced-Price School Lunch Program or School Breakfast Program, including at U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Community Eligibility Provision schools; SNAP; Medicaid; Federal Housing Assistance; Supplemental Security Income (SSI); WIC; Veterans Pension or Survivor Benefits; or Lifeline.
- Participates in one of these assistance programs and lives on Qualifying Tribal lands: Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Tribal TANF, Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations or Tribal Head Start (income based).
Eligible households must both apply for the program and contact a participating provider to select a service plan.The program started with a little over 9 million households at the start of 2022 and added over 500,000 new enrollees per month.
Funds are expected to be exhausted mid-2024 unless Congress reauthorizes the program. No definitive plan for that has been announced.
As of May 15, 2023, 605,892 households in Pennsylvania were enrolled. Nationally, 18,027,117 households enrolled.
This Issue Brief is also available to download in PDF format.
Achieving digital equity in the United States would mean that all the nation’s individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy, and economy. Digital equity is necessary for civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning, and access to essential services and is considered a long-term challenge.
The internet has made it possible to start a business from home, communicate with loved ones across oceans and time zones, work and learn remotely, receive health care services even if you live hours from a medical provider, and engage in any other of the thousands of opportunities. Yet, many U.S. residents continue to be disconnected from the internet and the opportunities it provides access to and has accentuated disparities where they exist.
As part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), the federal government is directing responsibility for digital equity plans to the states, citing their knowledge, coordination, convening abilities and expertise, their relationships with local communities, municipalities, and residents.
Digital equity involves broadband availability; broadband adoption; and digital inclusion.
Broadband availability refers to the ability of a household to subscribe to broadband service at a speed, quality, and capacity needed to accomplish everyday online tasks.
Broadband adoption refers to a household’s active subscription to broadband service at a speed, quality, and capacity needed to accomplish every day and critical online tasks, possession of the digital skills necessary to accomplish such tasks and ability to do so on a personal device and secure convenient network.
Digital inclusion refers to the activities necessary to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged, have access to and use of information and communication technologies. It must evolve as technology advances by requiring intentional strategies and investments to reduce and eliminate historical, institutional, and structural barriers to access and use technology.
The groups most affected by the digital divide are many of the same that were most severely impacted by the pandemic and have consistently experienced social inequities over time. According to the American Community Survey (ACS), 14.5 million households — 12 percent of all households in the country — had internet access only through a cellular data plan, and 16.7 million households (14 percent of all households) had no home broadband subscriptions of any kind in 2019, including a cellular data plan.
However, low-income households, older adults, and certain racial and ethnic groups lack broadband and computer access at higher rates than the general population. Among low-income households (making less than $35,000 per year), 30 percent lack a home internet subscription. Among persons 65 years of age and older, 22 percent lack broadband or a computer in their household.
Efforts to bridge the digital divide and work toward digital equity began in the early- to mid-1990s, primarily as grassroots efforts focused on improving digital skills through class training and public computer labs. In the 2000s community-based organizations and anchor institutions began investing in and creating what is now called digital equity programs, focused on addressing one or more of the five elements of digital inclusion:
- Affordable, robust broadband Internet service.
- Internet-enabled devices that meet the needs of the user.
- Access to digital literacy training.
- Quality technical support.
- Applications and online content are designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation, and collaboration.
At its core, digital equity work requires trust to succeed. The community members who would benefit most from support services often experience disenfranchisement and have seen their communities and neighbors overlooked by institutions. An inherent distrust of technology, borne from a lack of confidence or past negative experiences, can make people hesitant to engage with online resources. Moreover, logistically, those lacking broadband access are inherently harder to reach as outreach tools are increasingly digital.
For these reasons, trusted community-based organizations are fundamental to developing impactful digital inclusion programs. They have known entities with existing relationships and a history of providing services to the community, and digital inclusion programs are often a logical extension of their work. The types of organizations that develop digital inclusion programs can vary greatly depending on the character and needs of the community. However, some of the most common include small community-based organizations, libraries, public housing authorities, local governments, senior centers, schools and academic institutions, faith-based organizations, and social service organizations.
As the U.S. continues on the path toward digital equity, individuals will experience real, tangible outcomes. They’ll enjoy improved and remote education for lifelong learning, more options to receive care to stay healthy, and expanded job opportunities. More job opportunities, which leads to meaningful employment, is the key that will continue to unlock other opportunities for this generation and the next.
The availability of broadband, along with the digital skills to take advantage of it, opens the door for all individuals to be active, productive members of the workforce. With access to high-speed internet, they can search for open job postings and do online research to help them get the job. With digital literacy, they can thrive in those jobs and help advance themselves and their families economically, as well as the country as whole.
By investing in digital equity efforts, the U.S. is investing in a 21st century workforce – one that leads to real outcomes of families enjoying richer, fuller and healthier lives.
(Information derived from National Telecommunications and Information Association, Nov. 28, 2022)
This Issue Brief is also available for download in PDF format.
Broadband Cable’s Pennsylvania Impact
The critical role of broadband in today’s increasingly digital society is well documented, and for good reason. From statewide business and economic growth, to basic educational tools for completing homework and school assignments, to telemedicine, reliable high-speed Internet service is an ever-growing part of today’s way of life.
And as our increasingly web-based society moves forward requiring the most cutting-edge advances in telecommunications, the vast majority of Pennsylvanians have broadband access largely due to cable companies having launched – in the mid-1990s – a private capital investment of more than $10 billion to build out robust Internet service throughout the Commonwealth. Over 85,000 miles of high-speed cable plant – providing services for approximately 3 million customers – connects our state’s cities, townships, boroughs and rural areas.
Pennsylvania joins 49 other states in the reality of not realizing 100 percent broadband access and adoption within its borders. The state’s cable industry – having literally launched Pennsylvania’s first high-speed Internet service through its multi-billion-dollar investment of private capital more than twenty years ago – continues to expand its service footprint to the commonwealth’s hard-to-reach pockets.
Governor Tom Wolf’s recently-announced “Restore Pennsylvania” initiative includes rural broadband access as a component in helping the Commonwealth realize important infrastructure objectives within the next few years.
The 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload benchmark established by the Federal Communications Commission, and often referenced by Gov. Wolf’s administration, is the appropriate measure for whether a broadband service provides advanced telecommunications capability, allowing customers to receive high-quality data, voice, and video telecommunications services. It is important to note that more than 95 percent of Pennsylvania homes have broadband cable access – and nearly 99 percent of those residences – are offered Internet speeds higher than those standards established by the FCC.
This widespread access to broadband service is the result of the investment made by cable companies in Pennsylvania, and commitment to continually reduce our state’s digital divide. That commitment from Pennsylvania’s cable companies also includes contributions that provide critical broadband services to thousands of the Commonwealth’s schools, libraries, medical facilities and community centers.
Pennsylvania’s broadband cable industry is dedicated to continuing the aggressive efforts to close any gaps of Internet access, and remains engaged with local and state government to further that effort.
A La Carte (Pay Per Channel)
Cable’s method of delivering programming packages, with channels bundled into basic and digital tiers, has proven to provide both choice and quality to consumers. This model has enabled all programming networks, including niche networks that serve underserved audiences, to find and build an audience.
In recent years a number of organizations have examined the idea of receiving channels “a la carte” – priced and ordered individually rather than from a selected bundle – and have found serious flaws in that suggestion.
Under an a la carte system, consumers who now pay around $60 per month for expanded digital video service that provides more than 150 channels may need to pay the same $60 for a fraction of the channels they currently receive. Such a scenario would literally turn back the clock on one of the nation’s most technologically-advanced industries and programming diversity that deregulation has fostered.
Various independent studies have found that a “pay per channel” mechanism could “result in higher per channel rates,” and that consumers “would likely face an increase… of between 14 percent and 30 percent.” Independent financial analysts at Bear Stearns echoed the conclusion, finding that prices would rise for consumers electing more than six channels. Booz Allen Hamilton, in a study conducted for the industry, also declared consumers the loser in a per-channel charge world.
Some claim per-channel charge regulations would be a good antidote to the “skyrocketing” cable prices since the Telecommunications Act of 1996. This argument is off the mark. In fact, consumers are getting a significantly expanded, richer product since then, as cable has added hundreds of new channels. Also, when inflation is accounted for, the price per channel – a more honest measure of cable pricing – decreased over a recent five-year period, according to an industry study.
A la carte proponents claim that the pay-per-channel proposal is gaining steam among a chorus of civic organizations. Just the opposite is true. More than a hundred organizations on the political left and political right – including the NAACP, Americans for Tax Reform, Cato Institute, National Urban League, League of United Latin American Citizens, and National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium, have announced their opposition to the proposal.
Opponents of a la carte bring convincing, fact-based arguments to the debate:
- Because a la carte would reduce advertising revenues (which are based on the number of prospective viewers) and increase marketing costs for many program networks, cable networks would have no choice but to significantly increase subscriber fees and/or reduce the quality and quantity of their programming. Some program networks, especially those targeting niche audiences, would not survive.
- For these reasons, the FCC’s First Report on a la carte (2004) found that mandatory a la carte would likely make most consumers worse off. The FCC’s subsequent report (2006) determined that customers who already had digital boxes would pay the same for 20 channels as they do today for up to 150 channels. In other words, under a la carte, it would be like purchasing one or two eggs for the price of a dozen – not a great bargain for consumers.
- By undermining the economic viability of new networks, niche programming, and existing networks that appeal to minority audiences, a la carte would reduce programming diversity
- A la carte also would result in new equipment costs for many consumers, because purchasing channels in this way requires customers to have an addressable set-top box or a digital television set. Consumers who continue to subscribe to an analog-only tier – currently 22 percent of all U.S. cable customers – would no longer be able to plug their cable directly into a TV set and view their programming: they would have to buy or rent new equipment to view a la carte channels
- A la carte would fundamentally limit the way that people enjoy television. The benefit of cable is to provide consumers with a broad array of viewing options in a readily accessible fashion. These options accommodate a variety of tastes by different members of a household as well as changes in people’s tastes. A la carte would destroy that model, forcing viewers to lock in their programming choices in advance, and depriving them of the ability to easily explore new shows and networks.
The marketplace is working. We don’t need a U.S. Department of Television. The marketplace in which cable, satellite, broadcasters and others vigorously compete for customers and viewers should decide video offerings, not mandates.
In a highly competitive multichannel video marketplace, consumers are enjoying better value for their money as a result of the availability of more choices, higher quality programming and more advanced technology.
Since the Telecommunications Act of 1996, competition spurred the Commonwealth’s cable companies to invest more than $10 billion to deploy new broadband networks, leading to the introduction of exciting new interactive services that can meet Pennsylvanians’ total entertainment, communication and lifestyle needs.
With a “triple-play” of high-speed Internet, digital voice, and digital video services, consumers are saving real money on their household spending. Customers who purchase the triple play pay 31% less today, on an inflation-adjusted basis, than they paid for the three services 12 years ago – and the quality and breadth of all three services is significantly better.
Due to its dramatic expansion of offerings to customers choosing from a variety of programming tiers, cable’s video service is a tremendous entertainment value – costing just pennies for every hour of viewing. By using an “Hourly Price Per Person” metric, cable consumers in 2012 paid just 21 cents per viewing hour, less than Netflix customers and purchasers of newspapers, magazines and iTunes.
Again, the growth of video options and services has been enormous, and constant. Looking at the last twenty years, the number of national and regional cable networks has soared from 101 to 900.
As a result, HD service is now available through cable companies to more than 100 million U.S. households. Cable prices reflect the actual cost of providing new services to customers, including the increased cost of creating award-winning programming, building and maintaining fiber-optic networks and significant labor costs to hire and train employees in an increasingly sophisticated environment.
With the introduction of digital, HD and interactivity, video offerings have changed dramatically since the mid-1990s and consumers now have more choice than ever before. With hundreds of programming options, better picture and sound quality and the proliferation of exciting new interactive services, today’s video service hardly resembles the service available years ago.
Pennsylvania’s Internet service providers (ISPs) have always been committed to – and offered – the commonwealth’s consumers a powerful, open Internet experience so they can enjoy online content, services and applications of their choosing.
Our state’s broadband cable industry has embraced and fostered the development of an open Internet where companies do not block, throttle or otherwise interfere with the customer’s desire to go wherever they want on the web. Consumers demand it and, more importantly, it makes good business sense to provide customers full value for their Internet connections.
Prior to 2015, bipartisan federal Internet policy unanimously supported a “light touch” regulatory model which provided the incentive to invest and build some of the most advanced networks in the world. Since the mid-1990s, more than $8 billion in private investment was injected into building powerful networks that are available to the vast majority of Pennsylvanians, in urban and rural communities.
But the FCC’s misguided 2015 decision to impose heavy government regulation of the Internet networks raises costs, which are ultimately borne by consumers, and threatens the continued growth and expansion of those networks throughout the commonwealth and the United States. Consumers are best served by policies that encourage ongoing investment and innovation especially as technology changes, network demands increase and stakeholders focus on closing the digital divide in every community.
Only Congress has the power to conclusively settle this debate and provide the FCC with clear authority to enforce open Internet principles. It’s time for bipartisan legislation that will end the decades-old legal controversy, and move forward enforceable open Internet principles in statute. Such action will allow everyone to move beyond endless partisan debate, and the industry to focus on building and expanding its world-class networks that continue to create jobs and advance prosperity in Pennsylvania and around the nation.
No one would argue that the growth of the Internet, through the access of broadband infrastructure built by private investment – including Pennsylvania’s cable companies – has been anything less than revolutionary in the communications, research and educational growth of modern society. It will continue to grow if simply left alone. Unnecessary regulation comes at a price, and in this burgeoning industry the price would be paid in lost business development, stifled economic growth and a major step backward in Pennsylvania’s – and America’s – historic technological expansion.
Again, we strongly advocate that consumers be allowed to access any lawful content, applications and services available over the Internet, while utilizing today’s expanding technology and hardware in a way that causes no harm to broadband networks. We would argue that this is the wish of most Pennsylvania consumers as well.